Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Man With A Gun - UPDATE

How proud of myself I’ve been, patting my own back about my ability to temper my anxiety over the armed robber. See, I told myself, you worry for nothing. Everything turns out fine.

I found myself in the position of picking up the same boys from the same park after another soccer game yesterday. I joked with them: Any armed robbers today?

“Oh, did you hear what happened?” said one boy.

“No…” I said, shooting a look at my son. A look that would have consisted of a raised eyebrow if I were genetically disposed to make such a face.

“He didn’t tell you about the cops?” said the boy. He meaning my son.


“Oh my God, when we got to the soccer field there were police cars everywhere. There were, like, ten of them with their lights flashing on the baseball diamond.”

I knew the baseball diamond he meant. It was the one that flanked the soccer field.

“There was at least one helicopter and there were cops running toward that group of houses across the road, pulling people away from there because it wasn’t safe.”

“Flashing police cars. Helicopters. Evacuations. Anything else I should know?” I asked the teenager.

He thought for a second. “No, that’s about it.”

"With all that stuff going on, did anyone think, maybe we shouldn’t be here?"

[Insert abundant eye-rolling.]

“Mom. It was fine.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Man With A Gun?

I think the real problem with having a hyperactive worry mechanism for a brain is in a situation like last Friday, where I was taking the teenager and three friends over to a nearby county park to play some pick up soccer. These games are arranged like everything else in their lives – through a sudden mad flurry of text messages betwixt and between, resulting in little mini raves or flash mobs hither and yon. (Fortunately, mostly yon.)

A few blocks from the park, the teenager got a call (an actual voice communiqué) from one of the organizers. “The park is closed to traffic. No cars can come in or out. Apparently there’s an armed robber in the park. So tell your mom she can’t drive in.”

“An armed robber?” said the teenager. “So, should we just get dropped at the road and walk in?”

I try not to eavesdrop on the teenagers phone calls, but this sentence did make my ears prick up.

He had already flipped his phone closed, having seemingly done all the business he had to do on that call. “Drop us off at the entrance, please. No cars can go into the park.”

I pulled over.

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “Do we really think it’s a good idea to walk into a park where there’s an armed robber?”

“It’s fine, Mom,” said the teenager.

“He probably only has a knife,” said another.

“I don’t really care if I die,” said a third.

What are you all talking about? I said. There’s a guy. In the park. With a gun. You’re not going in there.

The teenager called his friend and relayed the bad news. An exchange occurred. Then, “Mom, he says the robber has moved on and now the park is closed to cars because there’s a concert there tonight.”

This is the point where I’m stymied. I know I’m an overreactor. But I can’t tell whether this is a reasonable threat to react to. If it were completely up to me, my children would not ever leave the house during a thunderstorm, when it’s windy or during an outbreak of any potentially fatal disease (including West Nile Virus and the seasonal flu).

“We’ll be fine,” my son said to me, again. “Why would an armed robber hang out in the middle of a big open soccer field? He’s more likely to take refuge in a tree.”

In some strange way, this made sense to me. So I let them out of the car. I made them talk to the police officer just beyond the park entrance so they themselves could assess the threat. Then they were to call me and report what they had learned.

“Hey, Mom…” said the teenager. I could still see him from the car but we were now speaking via satellite. “The police officer said the armed robber has moved on.”

“How does he know?” I asked, because for some reason I thought maybe the teenagers would be curious enough for their own physical safety that they might probe a bit.

But my son said they didn’t ask how he knew. They just assumed that if a policeman was letting them into the park that it was safe enough. And I guess in a sane and reasonable world, that should be good enough for me as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Days 9-11

I asked my husband flat out if he had a man-crush on The Tile Guy.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just wanted to know. Because he’s been talking about The Tile Guy. A lot. And in ways that are a bit curious. That’s why I asked.

The Tile Guy started his work two days ago. He showed up not long before I arrived home from an exercise class. My husband was here. And Tracey, the designer. And when I walked in, my husband met me at the door and whispered, “There’s a very sexy tile guy upstairs.”

I took the stairs two at a time, hoping my husband wouldn’t notice. Tracey and The Tile Guy were just emerging from the zippered plastic doorway that the contractors fashioned to contain the dust. It was true, The Tile Guy was sexy: tall, dark and muscley-armed. He had a strong handshake and looked you straight in the eye when he spoke.

“He is cute,” I said to Tracey once he’d gone.

“He’s stupid as grout.” Her assessment after spending fifteen minutes watching him fumpher through some rudimentary mathematical calculations.

There was a time in my life when brains would have definitely won out over arms, but now that call is not so clear cut.

But the question I’d posed my husband was later, in the evening, after he’d brought up The Tile Guy a few more times. After he’d commented on the music that he listened to, and the conversations he had with the other workmen.

“They talked about carbs and proteins. What they ate and what they lifted,” he told me.

“Nobody has a body like that by accident,” I said. “It’s hard work.”

My husband didn’t answer me directly about the man-crush question. “We don’t ever have anyone like that around the house,” he said. “It’s like having an antelope in the backyard. If you have an antelope in the backyard, your conversation is going to naturally drift toward discussing the antelope.”

It left me wondering whether that would be the sort of man my husband would have a man-crush on. And, of course, then I had to wonder whether The Tile Man seemed anything like me.

I took a good, long, surreptitious look at him today: tall, tanned, chiseled. Affable in an all-business kind of way. I couldn’t find a single similarity between us, although neither of us has any visible tattoos, so I guess we do have that in common.

I must admit, there is something oddly compelling about having that kind of alpha-male in the house. It’s unsettling, and I can’t really explain why. Is it some kind of pheromone thing, some irresistible emission that permeates the house like so much Axe cologne? Or is this just what middle-aged women (and men) ultimately become – antelope watchers?

We once had a wild turkey in our backyard, and it did garner practically this much discussion. If it had had better arms, maybe more.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fat & Ugly

I’m losing my memory.

Mostly I’m glib about it.

“If I tell you something, can you promise you won’t tell anyone?” someone will say to me.

“No worries,” I tell them. “I’ll forget it before I go to sleep tonight.”

And that’s actually true. It seems like every day I put something in the microwave and 40 seconds later, when the beep sounds, I have no recollection of what's in there. I open the door like it’s a present at Christmastime.

A few weeks ago, I flipped to a new week in my calendar and saw a note for Thursday: “4 HR Basketball.” What on earth could that mean? I wondered. It was written at the top of the page, before my 9:30 tennis date with Debi. It seemed to indicate Four Hours of Basketball was on the agenda, but given that I don’t play basketball, watch basketball, have any kids that play basketball and (I’m fairly certain) basketball season had passed, I couldn’t fathom what any basketball anything was doing on my schedule.

Luckily it was still Monday and I had a few days to figure it out. I wracked my mind but as the days passed, no clarity was forthcoming. On Wednesday, I really began to worry that I was supposed to do something or be somewhere the following day, but I had no idea what or where. And certainly not why.

Fortunately a call came in late Wednesday afternoon. The Basketball Hoop Repair Company (which I’d called the previous week to set up a repair for my neighbor’s basketball hoop [the one that my son broke]) was on the line to tell me within which 4 hour period they’d arrive to fix the damage. 4 HR Basketball. I guess when I wrote it down that was all the information I had. Obviously it made sense at the time.

These little brain lapses are taking place all too often. And I get particularly stressed when, like the basketball incident, something is written in a way that makes me think I'm expected to take action. Which is why, this morning, I’m absolutely dumbstruck to read my To Do List for this week. Many of the tasks have been completed, struck through with marker. But a few remain. One being Fat & Ugly. Really. What on earth could I have meant by that?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dodgeball Jessica

A few weeks back, the members of one of my tennis groups convened for a game and as we were about to decide on teams, one woman said: “I want to play with Jessica!” The declaration made me smile, both because I like playing with her as a partner, and because I was always the last one picked for Dodgeball.

We played two sets, and I thought we played ok, but we lost. Both sets. And the reason for that is: I always lose in tennis.

I don’t mean this in a self-pitying way. In fact, just the opposite. I’m often incredulous. “Gee, I feel like I’m playing really well. Yet, I’m losing again. What’s up with that?”

I play with a lot of different combinations of people, and a lot of different partners, so I’m not sure if anyone is aware of the fact that I lose every single set I play. Indoors, outdoors, hard court, clay. None of it matters.

Wait. I take it back. I won once on Sunday. It was during a clinic and they were short on players, so they gave me one of the pros as a partner. He was 6’3” and had a wingspan of nearly two-thirds the width of the court. He ran down every ball and made impossible shots that none of the women I play with could have made. Still, we didn’t win 6-0. I think 6-3.

So, the woman who wanted to play with me … did she say that because she felt sorry for me? Did she think, “Now that we’re all grown up and Dodge Ball is illegal, I’m not going to let Jessica go through what she obviously must have endured as a child.”?

I feel similarly when Laura the Tennis Pro is haranguing someone in the group about their serve or their backhand. Laura can be relentless, calling out to you over and over to “move those feet,” or “use less wrist,” never letting up until you can figure out how to correct yourself. Weeks and weeks will go by, during which she seems to be picking apart everyone’s game but mine. At first, I thought it was because I was hitting well, playing well. But Dodgeball Jessica wonders if she just thinks I’m a lost cause. In that same way that you wouldn’t ever bother trying to teach a two-year-old shadow and perspective when they’re busy making crayon scribbles on their oak-tag.

This is one of the downsides of tennis being a gentlemen’s game. Of everyone being so well mannered. No one will ever really tell you how much you suck.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 8

So, the sheetrock guys just left and for the first time I can see how the “new” cabinet will fit in to the bathroom plan. I loved my old bathroom cabinet so much that I was almost willing to go another decade with an entirely non-functional bathroom, simply in order to hang onto it. Its replacement is going to be different. The nook it sits in had to change size because of the bathtub, so the cabinet size had to change as well.

I just have to talk about the old cabinet for a minute. It was amazing. It had been built to fit into its two-foot wide nook and it was deceivingly spacious. The cabinet interiors were both wider and deeper than you expected, and the shelves (which were not adjustable) just happened to sit at exactly the right intervals.

It had these little interior raised ledges where you could line up small bottles and jars way in the back of the cabinet but they’d still be in full view when you opened the cabinet door. This is where I kept all the expired bottles of Tylenol with codeine, the jar of Vicks Vap-O-Rub that I’ve kept with me since I was in grade school, and that bottle of Ipacac syrup that probably isn’t so necessary now that my kids have stopped eating silica gel.

In the bottom of the cabinet, we were able to keep the three big Rubbermaid tubs --tubs large enough to soak feet or to wash delicates or to house the gecko for short spurts during tank cleanings. All of the toiletries bags fit in there as well, including the structured green canvas travel bag that holds about 15 standing shampoo bottles. All the fish supplies (for the now-dead fish) were in there. Baskets full of floss, toothpaste, toothbrushes, thermometers. All the filters for the air purifiers, the nebulizer, the asthma meds, the hot water bottle.

I’m not sure why there was a conch shell in there. Or four white drain plugs (none of which fit the bathtub drain). But the half-gallon of olive oil was there in case we ever end up with lice again. And the cabinet itself had a handy four-inch ledge where I could set the olive oil, and comb, and shower caps while my kids readied themselves on the edge of the otherwise useless tub for a comb-through.

Tracey has taken me to bathroom showrooms and we’ve looked at door styles and finishes and drawer pulls for the new cabinet. There’s a lot to choose from. And, for the most part, they’re all fine.

Everyone keeps telling me this new cabinet – while it won’t have the space to hold most of what was in there before – will look really nice. “It’ll be pretty,” they say. I’m as much of a sucker for eye-candy as the next gal, but I’m still really missing my old, dull, unsexy bathroom cabinet. To me, it was perfect. I never cared what it looked like. It’s what was inside that counted.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 7

There have been a lot of days between Day 6 and Day 7, but not much happening during them. Workers show up for an hour here, an hour there, plumbers plumb and electricians wire, but nothing looks very different than it had before.

The parade of cute workers seems to have waned, replaced by gentlemen who all look like they could be cast in The Sopranos. The sheetrock guy who arrived today reminds me of Frank Zappa, but without any of the wit or charm. I guess the honeymoon is over.

Much of my time has been spent shopping online for hardware. The whole process makes me want to turn into a Marxist. Why are there so many types of towel racks? Robe hooks? Toilet paper holders? Who needs all these choices? I feel like I need a special education just to understand how to evaluate them.

I spend time with Tracey (my designer) and my contractor, standing in a stripped away space, going through minute details in what feels like a language I don’t understand. “What’s a soffit?” I whisper to Tracey. “Bull-nosed tiles? What’s that?”

The contractor will talk for five minutes straight while pointing and zipping out his tape measure. “Translate,” I say to Tracey, as if I’m with my bi-lingual Jewish friends who slip quietly into Hebrew when they want to gossip freely in front of their kids.

I make lists. I write checks. I wait for the new eggs to hatch. We’re all nesting.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Big Fat Shameful Yard Sale

It took me two days to recuperate from our yard sale.

We used to pull off a yard sale in Hoboken with two days notice. (Actually, in Hoboken, they’re called Gate Sales. Because no one has a yard. We all had little black wrought iron gates that delineated which cement was part of our property and which cement was the public walkway.) We could buzz around town and hang up signs and then cart some stuff out, fill up our 6-step stoop and 17-feet of sidewalk with our wares, and get rid of a quick closets worth of junk in a few hours.

Here, in Montclair, it’s a much bigger production, with newspaper ads and town permits and folding tables galore.

And shame.

There’s something about having a yard sale in this town that always feels shameful to me and I don’t know why. It’s the exact same process: The sale is called for 9AM. People start cruising your lot at 7:30, finally expecting entree by 8:30. Those 8:30 hard-cores clean you out of most anything of value, piling their choices high in their arms, asking for a price, then asking if you’ll take half of that price.

The next two hours are a constant stream of regular “salers” – the husband goes through the CDs for 45 minutes while the wife sits with you on the porch and chats. By 11 o’clock, you’re done. Maybe you’ll get another few people dropping by, but since you listed 3PM as the end time in the ad, you really need to keep everything out until then.

One neighbor came by and said she was once considering having a yard sale but couldn’t bear the idea of strangers picking through her things all day. “Maybe I could do a one-hour sale,” she mused. “Eight to nine. Done.”

I don’t know why I always feel like I’m in a state of apology with our suburban sales. People make you feel like anything over $1 is priced too high. After two people balked at the price of my brand-new-with-the-price-tag-still-on-it evening bag, I got so annoyed I just took it back into the house.

The last hours of the day were spent bagging the remains for various exit strategies: Red Cross, the town Swap Meet, library donations, and, of course, The Curb.

“You know what’s really depressing?” said my husband later that evening, when neither of us could still hold our heads upright. “We own things that nobody wants…not even for a dollar.”

Yes, we do. Such a shame.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Missed Manners

If you’re going to play Ladies Tennis, here’s one of the things that you have to master. More than your stroke or your serve or how to proceed through a tiebreaker, you must master the art of graciousness.

This doesn’t only mean that you should call a “questionable” ball “in,” if you’re really not certain it’s “out.” You should of course do that. But that’s the kind of thing that usually gets taken care of through Tennis Karma (Tarma?) (which I will discuss at another time). Mastering Tennis Grace means you must learn to go out of your way to be thoughtful and polite and say nice things to the other players, and especially to your partner.

Early on, when you’re learning the game and it’s all you can do to remember how the scoring works, you aren’t expected to have the mental capacity to exhibit a great deal of social grace. But soon enough, it is very clear that the expected verbal response to that lob/winner is “Nice shot!” Not, “You bitch!”

I feel like you can actually tell how long someone’s been playing by how thoughtful they are. Women who will convene around the water barrel on a 95-degree day and hand you the cup of water they’ve just drawn – hand everyone out cups of water they’ve drawn – before they ever take for themselves, those women are the masters.

None of that stuff comes naturally to me and I have to have a running conversation with myself the entire time I’m playing. Don’t slam the ball at the player who just dropped her racquet. Don’t do the Happy Dance if you’re already ahead a game or two. For God’s sake, don’t give her the finger if she hits that ball past you down the line for the third time in a row.

It's no secret that I have a hard time with my backhand, but that's nothing compared to the mental gymnastics required for me to remember to be thoughtful. Laura the Tennis Pro is not the ideal model for such behavior. Yes, she recently taught us to stick with our partner when we’re changing sides of the court. (“It shows unity to travel around on the same side of the net,” she says.) But she laughs heartily (cackles, really, in an almost uncontrollable convulsive way) when one of us accidentally gets hit with a ball. The more direct the blow, the harder she laughs. It’s as if she’s never seen anything funnier in her life, and I’m pretty certain that would not be an acceptable response if any of us reacted that way in an actual match.

I have a copy of Open, the Andre Agassi autobiography, on my nightstand. But I'm thinking maybe I should replace it with my copy of Etiquette, by Emily Post.

Oh, I'm sorry. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Another Hot 100

Maybe it’s because I’m getting up in the years, but I’ve recently taken to celebrating “hundreds” of things. And this week is my 100th week on Weight Watchers.

My “week” starts on a Saturday, so technically I’m already into my 100th week. If you’re wondering how specifically I celebrated on Saturday, it was by eating an entire week’s worth of points between 2 and 11 PM. I don’t think I’d ever actually done that in the entire 100 weeks I’ve been counting points, so it was its own kind of milestone.

One hundred weeks ago, I was in my dining room surrounded by my book group and I was wearing the only thing that fit me at the time: a Kelly green tie-dyed cotton shift that is absolutely the wrong color for me and should never have been bought in the first place.

I declared to that small audience that I was planning on starting Weight Watchers that week. I actually had no intention of doing any such thing and was just trying to add drama to my explanation for wearing such an unflattering outfit. But two of the women said that if I went, they would come with me. So four days later, the three of us found ourselves in a bright loft on a long line, trying to hold our skepticism in check.

That was 100 weeks ago. Fourteen thousand points ago. And God only knows how many vats of popcorn ago.

Not so long before that book group meeting, I had gone running off to my doctor to see if I had some frightful disease. My belly was bloated constantly, taking on a shape it had never been. I’d look at myself in the mirror sideways, aghast. I looked six months pregnant, even though my childbearing years were far behind me.

My doctor is diligent and he is kind. So it was only after a thorough exam and a face filled with apology that he gave me my diagnosis. “That’s just how women your age start to carry their extra weight,” he said.

“Oh my God! I’m fine? I’m fine, and just fat!?” I was elated. Except for the fat part.

Based on his diagnosis, I got the idea in my head that my weight gain was inevitable, and worse, irreversible. I didn’t think there was a thing I could do.

I could write a week’s worth of posts about how a relatively small weight loss completely transformed my life. How I’ve only had one head cold in two years. How I can now easily get to short balls on the tennis court that I used to just let go. Most profound, though, is that with the shedding of pounds, I’ve ended up shedding a lot of negativity that was (sorry for this) really weighing me down.

I know, to a lot of folks I sound like a Weight Watchers huckster. I can’t help it. I’m a point-counter. And I’ve got 100 weekly log books to prove it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


You know how when you buy a new house, or move into a new apartment, you have to tear out the carpeting or take down the wallpaper – do something to make the house feel like yours? Well, apparently our fine, feathered friends feel similarly. The babies only flew away a week ago and already our porch nest has been flipped, or sublet, or otherwise reoccupied.

I assumed, once the babies were gone, that the nest would have no use to anyone. I was going to take it down from its little nook this week, but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. (It makes the porch look a little unkempt.) But, in a classic case of early-bird-worm-catching, I’m too late. The nest has been repurposed.

To me, there doesn’t seem anything wrong about moving into pre-owned digs, but I have to admit, I was a little surprised that birds would do such a thing. I thought they’d be all, New, new, new -- I need FRESH dead grass and FRESH dried leaves! But evidently all they need is to add a new layer of detritus to the preexisting nest and, voila, they’re ready for action.

I could tell right away that the nest had been “fluffed.” It looks like someone took a little Cape Cod and added a second story to it. This morning, there was a brand new Mama sitting in it, presumably on new eggs. I don’t know how long this will go on, but I’ve already gotten Scott mentally prepared for the porch scrubbing he’ll be in for when these tenants leave. It’s true, birds are not known for their cleanliness, and these fellows seem to consider our mahogany flooring their own personal toilet.

I hope we haven’t developed a reputation as a flophouse. Maybe it’s time to move the washing machine back indoors.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mothering Tween Boys

My almost 11-year-old and I were sitting together last night clipping our fingernails. We were talking to one another, but our focus was downward, involved in our present task. So he didn’t see it when, like lightening, my right hand shot out and swiped at the air beside me. He only saw the end of the gesture: me with my closed fist in front of my chest.

“How much do you wanna bet I have a dead mosquito in here?” I asked him, jiggling that fist a little so it would get his attention.

His eyes lit up, dazzled by the mere prospect. “No way!” he said. (He’s the only one in the family who can raise a single eyebrow, and he did so at this time.)

“I bet I do,” I said, taunting.

He looked skeptical. “You can’t catch a mosquito in mid-air,” he said.

That was exactly the challenge I was waiting for. I slowly uncurled my fist. In it (to my own surprise and relief) was what remained of an early-season mosquito, a bit mangled, but easily recognizable.

He looked at it, and me, in awe for not quite a half a second. Then he reaffixed a blasé look on his face and said, “Mom. If you had done that with your eyes closed – snatched it by the side of your head just from hearing it’s quiet buzzing – and then thrown it in one motion straight into the garbage can, that would have maybe been something.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 6

I don’t mind calling Ulises every day because he’s just so darn cheerful.

“I’ll bet you’re wondering whether I’ve found your lost sink yet,” he’ll say to me as soon as I identify myself on the phone. And then, before I have a chance to aver, “Nope! Not yet!”

All the bathroom fixtures have been delivered, except for the sink basin. It’s a pedestal sink and it comes in two pieces. We received the pedestal. Only.

“That’s an interesting way to spell Ulises,” I had said to him when he’d handed me his business card in the showroom. He looked at me quizzically, as if no one had ever mentioned that before. “I’m used to seeing it with a Y,” I’d said.

“Oh, you’re talking about the old way. My spelling is the newer, more modern way.” He delivers every sentence with a broad, beaming grin. He has that sunny disposition of a man who has sex often and to capacity.

The fixtures delivery arrived over a week ago, and still there is no sign of the sink basin. Ulises has asked me several times to go out to the garage and check again to see if it’s there.

“Not here,” I tell him.

This seems to amuse him no end. “Where could a sink basin go to?” he says, laughing. The prospect of a missing sink just cracks him up.

I usually don’t go in for people like this who view each of life’s calamities as yet another source of amusement. But this guy is perfect for his job. Selling bathroom fixtures. Getting them where they need to go. Or not. But all so very happily.

Meanwhile, I have every confidence that Ulises will track down my sink basin. An act that may end up being (dare I say) nothing short of heroic.